Georgia Bulldogs: Will New S&C Coach John Thomas Help Georgia "Finish The Drill"?

According to an announcement by head coach Mark Richt, Georgia has officially added both Sherman Armstrong and John Thomas to Georgia’s Strength and Conditioning staff. Armstrong was profiled here several weeks ago (see link at bottom) while Thomas’ name has been floated around on message boards but wasn’t made official until today.

Both will bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table, but John Thomas’ addition should be especially intriguing given his early success at Penn State. Where Armstrong operated under the VAST training program, Thomas employs the ‘High Intensity Training’ (HIT) method, and has for over 20-years.

For those unfamiliar with the HIT method and what it does, here is an excerpt from “The Black Shoe Diaries” (SBNation’s Penn State Blog) about it, as told through the words of a “former Penn State offensive lineman” who trained under Thomas and also had a career in the NFL.

…HIT focuses on getting muscle groups used to, or close to, complete failure (i.e.: not having the ability to even use that muscle anymore temporarily).

….There are two main reasons to train this way; first, it’s safer. Strapping on as much weight as possible and “maxing out” puts undue stress on the joints and muscles. HIT uses lower weights in a more controlled fashion. Second, HIT is designed to get muscles conditioned to perform over longer periods of time. This is the old “we don’t get tired in the 4th quarter” mantra that football teams and trainers love [emphasis added]. Except for the rare physical freak of nature like Kareem McCenzie or Levi Brown, you don’t see too many 310+ pounders coming out of PSU.

Joe Paterno loathed overweight linemen. The worst thing that happened to me was the Broncos winning those Super Bowlswith 280-285 pounders and Joe was vindicated (I struggled staying at or around 290). I remember killing myself one summer and reported at like 288 pounds. Joe walked around the stretching line with his weigh-in sheet, paused at me and said “288, huh? Imagine how good you’d look at 280…” 

….Our S&C program is designed to have fit, strong players who can go the distance [emphasis added].

Think back to Georgia’s last two seasons.

2010 was fraught with issues from both a conditioning and strength standpoint. Georgia had the talent to compete, but many of the players—on both sides of the football—didn’t fill out their uniforms as well as they might have liked. On the offensive line, in particular, the guys played “soft” and were regularly man-handled by smaller defensive fronts; this was despite the fact that they typically outweighed the opposition.

2011 saw stronger players using better technique, but the lack of depth took a toll down the stretch as fatigue became a factor in both the Michigan State and LSU games. Georgia simply didn’t look prepared to go the distance in either contest and ended up losing games that were, by all accounts, winnable.

So, just from a practical standpoint, the infusion of John Thomas seems to be calculated. Where Sherman Armstrong will be responsible for helping players maximize their skill-set without sacrificing their speed or technique, Thomas will be there to help ensure they are in it for the long-haul—not just the first 60 minutes, but perhaps another 60 if need be.

But, Thomas’ system doesn’t come without some concerns.

One of the main reasons he lost favor with the Penn State fans and critics was his inability to change or adjust his system for the current times. College football wasn’t producing 300+ pound lineman in the early 90’s when Thomas came to Penn State under coach Joe Paterno. Kids like that were an anomaly. However, these days, prospects are coming out of high school with NFL bodies; and when you consider Penn State’s lack of significant success over the last five or six years, you start to wonder if their S&C coach, much like Georgia’s Dave Van Halanger, lost touch with what works.

“…Penn State football players went through workouts very similar to ones that they’d have gone through had they enrolled in the military. Thomas, in fact, was once head strength trainer at the United States Military Academy.

The method had its benefits. Using machines during the exercises put a premium on technique, which limited unnecessary muscle strains and injury while working out. It also made the Nittany Lions leaner, better able to handle the cardiovascular workload of a tough fourth quarter [emphasis added]. And besides, the late Joe Paterno used to despise playing overweight linemen. This method helped keep the excess weight off.

The HIT program came with a bit of controversy, though. As years passed, fans complained that Penn State’s linemen weren’t as big, strong and physical as others around the Big Ten. Defensive tackles looked like defensive ends. Linebackers who looked skinny at Penn State were becoming statuesque almost overnight in the NFL.

Thomas and HIT were often handed part of the blame during discussions about whether the Penn State coaching staff was doing enough to develop players.” (Donnie Collins,”New strength and conditioning program already having an impact at Penn State”, timestribune.com, 2/20/12). 

Again, the emphasis seems to be on fourth-quarter readiness and using machines (as opposed to free weights) to ward off injuries. Injuries have been another major issue at Georgia over the years, particularly on the offensive line.

Speaking of which, it also seems important to note that much of Georgia’s current offensive line will be in the 285-300 range Thomas often trained. Aside from Watts Dantzler who is significantly over 300 (currently listed at 320), the relatively size we saw in guys like Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones is now gone.  

That said, will fans at Georgia be willing to sacrifice hulking lineman for guys who are more durable and reliable come fourth quarter—”Finish The Drill” time?  Guys like John Theus and Zach DeBell who are both highly mobile guys who play well on the move?

The answer to that question I’d guess most would be an emphatic yes because the one thing I can assure you most Georgia fans didn’t appreciate the site of was a falling lineman who not only didn’t manage to execute his blocking assignment properly, but also ended up leaving his quarterback hanging out to dry on more occasions than not.

In the end, at least from a practical perspective, the hire looks like a good fit for Georgia. And, even with the criticism of Thomas’ techniques within the HIT program, there are still plenty of reasons to believe it can be successful if used in a balanced, well-rounded, way—and with that other JT still running the ship, I have no doubt that that will be the case. 

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I am not a 'journalist' by trade, nor do I present myself as such. I am a wife, mother, and passionate Georgia Bulldog fan. That's it. I write. You read.